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Marijuana Reform Omitted From Biden Transition Plan On Racial Equity Despite Campaign Pledges

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Marijuana reform advocates have been looking for signs that an incoming president-elect Joe Biden will make good on his campaign pledge to pursue cannabis policy changes since the former vice president has been projected to win the election. But they didn’t get any such sign in a new racial equity plan his transition team has put forward.

While Biden emphasized on the campaign trail that cannabis decriminalization and expungements would be part of his racial justice agenda, the plan released over the weekend omits any specific mention of marijuana reform.

Many of the proposals are broadly described, however, and it’s possible that a policy like decriminalization could be folded into broader commitments to eliminate “racial disparities and ensuring fair sentences,” for example.

In any case, there’s been some skepticism on the part of advocates that Biden’s stated support for cannabis reform will be matched with administrative action. And although he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have repeatedly promised to follow through with decriminalization and expungements if elected, that issue did not make the cut in the new “commitment to uplifting Black and Brown communities.”

The page says Biden is working to “strengthen America’s commitment to justice, and reform our criminal justice system” and lays out other specific promises that were often mentioned on the campaign trail alongside marijuana reform, such as a ban on police chokeholds and creating a national oversight commission to track law enforcement abuses. But cannabis reform is nowhere to be found in the transition team document.

In contrast, a still-live page on Biden’s separate campaign site for his “Plan for Black America” that he rolled out while running for president, includes the pledge to “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.”

Lawmakers and advocates frequently cite cannabis reform as a key racial justice measure, pointing out that Black people are significantly more likely to be arrested over marijuana offenses despite the fact that white people consume cannabis at a comparable rate.

A Biden campaign spokesman, when contacted by Marijuana Moment about the omission of the cannabis pledge from the new site, at first argued that it was because the document is focused on economic equity issues. But when it was pointed out that the page also includes several criminal justice-focused proposals such as stopping the “transfer of weapons of war to police forces” and the other related measures, he replied that the omission of marijuana reform didn’t signal a deprioritization of the issue.

“Nothing has changed,” he said, adding that other priorities of the incoming administration, such as LGBT rights, were also not specifically featured in the “Build Back Better” transition site.

Part of advocates’ skepticism about follow through on the issue is related to the fact that Biden played a key role in advancing punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in the Senate and has declined to embrace adult-use legalization despite supermajority support among voters in his own party.

But while the racial equity page doesn’t seem to signal a sense of urgency when it comes to marijuana reform, many advocates are still optimistic that the Biden-Harris election bodes well for the issue overall.

Beyond decriminalization and expungements, Biden favors medical cannabis legalization, modestly rescheduling marijuana under federal law and letting states set their own policies without federal intervention. Harris is the main Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule cannabis, though she has her own history of previously opposing reform.

“To truly achieve racial equity in marijuana policy, President-elect Biden must commit to removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and repairing harms felt by individuals impacted by this country’s racist drug war,” Martiza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Anything less than that is unacceptable and falls short.”

Biden could accomplish that by supporting Harris’s Marijuana Opportunities, Reinvestment and Expungements (MORE) Act to legalize marijuana at the federal level and implement a series of social justice policies. But he’s so far shown no inclination to do so.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced on Monday that the chamber will hold a floor vote on the bill, which also contains provisions to fund programs to repair some of the harms of the war on drugs, next month. The House was initially expected to do so in September, but it was ultimately postponed after certain centrist Democrats argued the optics of passing the bill would be bad for them before approving another coronavirus relief package.

“Our hope is that as vice president, Senator Harris will continue to champion the MORE Act as she did in the Senate as the bill’s lead sponsor,” Perez said. “This bill would deschedule marijuana at the federal level and provide a path for the resentencing and expungement of marijuana convictions in addition to other social justice components.”

For her part, Harris has indicated that she wouldn’t be proactively pushing Biden to adopt a pro-legalization stance. She did say last month that she has a “deal” with Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, however, and that includes legalizing cannabis.

The senator also said that month that the administration would have “a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

That promise is not featured on the transition team’s new racial equity page, however. It states more generally that we “can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime,” without specifically recognizing the role of the drug war in increasing incarceration rates nationwide.

The page also fails to note another drug policy reform position Biden holds but which advocates are generally opposed to: diverting people away from incarceration for drug possession and forcing them to enroll treatment programs. While reformers don’t want people to go to jail for drugs, of course, they are concerned that mandating treatment through drug courts inappropriately continues to involve the criminal justice system in responding to a health issue.

Meanwhile, advocates have noticed that Biden and Harris haven’t mentioned the cannabis-related campaign pledges since Election Day.

“During the campaign, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris both pledged to prioritize reforms to our nation’s cannabis policy,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “They outlined plans that had the intention of ending marijuana possession arrests and getting the federal government off of the backs of states who wish to end their failed prohibitions.”

“Given that marijuana reform efforts were approved in every state they were on the ballot this election, and received more votes than Joe Biden in all of those states, the Biden-Harris administration needs to acknowledge the overwhelming public support these reforms have and move to rapidly champion change at the federal level,” he said. “The results from election night show that we have a mandate from the American people and we intend to make sure that elected officials abide by it.”

Arrests for drug sales, manufacturing and possession amounted to 1,558,862 in 2019—approximately 15 percent of all busts reported to FBI from local and state law enforcement agencies. That’s one new drug case every 20 seconds.

“Our criminal justice system cannot be just unless we root out the racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system,” the Biden-Harris transition site says. “The system must be focused on redemption and rehabilitation.”

Shortly after becoming the party’s 2020 nominee, the former vice president’s ongoing opposition to recreational legalization is suspected of being at least partly behind the Democratic National Committee platform committee’s vote against adding the reform as a 2020 party plank in July.

So it may be incumbent upon Congress to advance broad legalization after he takes office. And the likelihood of that happening will hinge largely on the makeup of the Senate, which is yet to be determined.

Should Democrats reclaim control of the Senate and keep the House, the chance of advancing reform will be significantly increased. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the current top Democrat in the chamber, who would be expected to be installed as the majority leader come January if the party wins enough of the outstanding races, said last month that he will put his own descheduling bill “in play” and that “I think we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”

With a Democratic-controlled Senate and the party still in control of the House, it stands to reason that cannabis reform would move in the 117th Congress, even if the pace of that reform and the administration’s role in promoting it remain uncertain.

That said, if Republicans keep their hold on the Senate, that could seriously hamper reform efforts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is an adamant opponent of loosening laws on marijuana, all but ensuring that reform bills would not stand a chance in his chamber even as he has championed hemp legalization. Even modest House-passed legislation focused on banking access for cannabis businesses never received a vote.

“President-elect Biden has both the opportunity and responsibility to call upon lawmakers to advance comprehensive legislation to reform our country’s failed marijuana policies,” Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “While Americans are divided among many issues, legalization is one issue that brings people across the country together. Voters in red states and blue states alike have shown that they support legalization and it’s time for the president and Congress to take real action.”

Outside of Congress, Biden could also make moves to advance cannabis reform administratively.

For example, he could reinstate a version of the Obama-era Justice Department memo that directed federal prosecutors to generally not interfere with state marijuana laws, which was rescinded by the Trump administration in 2018. It is also within the power of the executive branch to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Biden has pledged to make a move to Schedule II, though that would not achieve many of the changes advocates seek.

The president has the unilateral authority to grant acts of clemency, including pardons and commutations, to people who have been convicted of federal marijuana or other drug offenses. He also gets to appoint an attorney general, drug czar and other officials who will make decisions on how the federal government handles the issue—though many of those officials will be subject to Senate confirmation.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

Congress Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Next Month, House Leadership Announces

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Louisiana Marijuana Decriminalization Officially Takes Effect As Lawmaker Launches Awareness Campaign

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Marijuana decriminalization took effect in Louisiana on Sunday—and advocates and lawmakers are working to ensure that residents know what they can and cannot do without going to jail under the new law.

Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) signed the legislation in June, and he emphasized that it was “not a decision I took lightly,” but he recognized that criminalization has had significant consequences for families and taxpayers.

Under the law, possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis is now punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of jail time. The governor has pushed back against the definition of the policy as “decriminalization,” but that’s exactly how advocates define policies that remove the threat of incarceration for low-level possession.

Now, the sponsor of the decriminalization bill, Rep. Cedric Glover (D), is partnering with the advocacy group Louisiana Progress on an awareness campaign to educate people about the new reform.

They’ve already put out a FAQ on the law and will be using social media and other informational materials to inform the public while also engaging in outreach to law enforcement and legislators.

“When I saw two city council members in my hometown of Shreveport—one conservative and one progressive—come together to decriminalize personal-use marijuana possession there, I knew it was time to take this reform to the state level,” Glover said. “Criminalizing marijuana possession is harmful to the people of Louisiana in so many ways, but it’s been particularly harmful for Black and Brown communities, lower-income folks, and young people. My fervent hope is that this new law will finally bring some relief and a feeling of freedom to those communities.”

Louisiana Progress says lawmakers shouldn’t stop at simple decriminalization and should enact broader cannabis legalization in an upcoming session.

“Marijuana decriminalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform in Louisiana, especially for the traditionally marginalized communities that have been disproportionately criminalized under prohibition,” the group’s new FAQ says. “But we need to keep fighting to end marijuana prohibition altogether. Doing so could be hugely beneficial, including bringing dozens of new small businesses and hundreds or even thousands of new jobs to Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, national advocates are cheering the new law’s taking effect.

“This is a much-needed policy change for Louisiana,” NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said in a press release. “The enactment of this legislation is great progress toward ending the racially discriminatory policy of branding otherwise law-abiding Louisianans as criminals for minor marijuana possession offenses when law enforcement should instead be focusing on fighting legitimate crime.”

Separately, the governor also signed a bill in June to let patients in the state’s medical cannabis program legally smoke whole-plant marijuana flower.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The legislation marks a notable expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program. As it stands, patients are able to vaporize cannabis preparations via a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot access whole-plant flower and smoking is not allowed.

While the governor has made clear his willingness to approve more modest reforms, he predicted that he would not be the one to sign adult-use legalization into law before he leaves office in early 2024—even though he does expect the policy change to happen in his state at some point.

An effort in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize recreational cannabis stalled in the House this session after the chamber failed to pass a complementary measure on taxing adult-use marijuana. Edwards also said in May that he believes the reform “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”

“It’s on the march, and that certainly might happen here in Louisiana,” he said last week. However “I would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor.” (Edwards is term-limited and cannot run again in 2023’s upcoming gubernatorial election.)

In April, the governor also said that he had “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.

Last year, the Louisiana legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Edwards signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.

The developments on various cannabis-related legislation come after recent polling showed that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.

Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Aims To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Aims To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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Senate leaders released a massive and long-anticipated infrastructure bill late on Sunday—and after weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the legislation includes provisions that aim to allow researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The bill also encourages states that have enacted legalization laws to educate people about impaired driving.

The language on scientists’ access to retail cannabis products was attached to an earlier version of infrastructure legislation in a Senate committee, and it’s substantively the same as a provision included in a House-passed infrastructure bill.

The measure makes it so the transportation secretary would need to work with the attorney general and secretary of health and human services to develop a public report within two years of the bill’s enactment that includes recommendations on allowing scientists to access retail-level marijuana to study impaired driving.

The cannabis provision stipulates that the report must contain a recommendation on establishing a national clearinghouse to “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.”

It specifies that scientists from states that have not yet enacted legalization should also be able to access to dispensary products that are being sold in jurisdictions that have ended prohibition.

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the committee amendment that contains these reforms, and he argued that the changes are necessary in order to promote research into impaired driving and create a national standard for addressing such activity.

Advocates have been waiting to see whether the committee-approved language would make it into the bipartisan negotiated bill. And the fact that it did stay intact following extensive negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who worked to craft the deal is significant. The Senate is expected to take up the bill on the floor this week.

If it passes, the amended legislation would then need to go back to the House for consideration before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill says the cannabis research report must also broadly examine “federal statutory and regulatory barriers” to studies on marijuana-impaired driving.

The transportation legislation also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis. Advocates take issue with that language simply because it targets legalized jurisdictions while ignoring the fact that marijuana-impaired driving takes place regardless of its legal status.

An earlier version of the transportation bill cleared the House last Congress with identical marijuana provisions but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Since its initial introduction last year, some steps have been taken to resolve that issue. Most notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

That marks a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.

But that move from DEA would still not free up researchers to access marijuana products from state-legal retailers in the way the transportation legislation would encourage if enacted.

While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A federally funded study recently promoted by the National Institute of Justice also found that the amount of THC in a person’s system after consuming marijuana is not an accurate predictor of impairment.

Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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A Colorado campaign appears to have submitted enough signatures to place a ballot initiative before voters in November that would raise marijuana taxes to fund programs that are designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students.

The Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) measure would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.

The state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would increased from 15 percent to 20 percent to fund the effort.

Supporters say this policy is especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—have expressed concern about the proposal.

In any case, the LEAP campaign turned in about 200,000 signatures for the measure to the secretary of state’s office on Friday. It only needs 124,632 valid signatures to qualify.

Monica Colbert Burton, a LEAP campaign representative, told Colorado Public Radio that the sizable signature turn-in “really demonstrates the broad support around the state for this issue.”

“The learning loss that we’ve seen during the pandemic is so much higher than we’ve ever seen before particularly for our low-income families and our students that don’t have access to the same resources,” Colbert Burton said.

Beyond imposing the extra five percent tax on cannabis, the initiative also calls for a repurposing of state revenue that it generates from leases and rents for operations held on state land. Advocates estimate that the measure would translate into $150 million in additional funding annually.

But according to an analysis from Westword, adding the tax to the existing 15 percent special tax would’ve only created $80 million in added revenue based on 2020 sales figures.

Some stakeholders and cannabis advocates have come out strongly against the proposal.

“That this initiative is being pushed at a moment in Colorado when the cannabis industry is trying to create more equity and bring economic growth to marginalized communities harmed by the racist Drug War is especially tone deaf,” Hashim Coates, executive director of the trade group Black Brown and Red Badged, said in a press release. “But that is to be expected when the backers of this measure are affluent white men.”

“Let’s just be perfectly clear: this is a regressive tax—which always harms Black and Brown consumers the most. This is going to a voucher program—which always harms Black and Brown communities the most,” Coates said. “And it’s targeting the marijuana industry as a magical bottomless piggy bank—which will devastate the Black and Brown owned cannabis businesses the most. Can we just let the black community breathe for a moment after this pandemic before we start taxing them to death?”

The measure is being endorsed by a two former governors, about 20 sitting state lawmakers, several former legislative leaders and several other educational organizations.

But in June, the Colorado Education Association withdrew its support for the proposal over concerns about how it would be implemented.

The next step for the initiative is for the secretary of state’s office to verify that there are enough valid signature in the batch LEAP supporters turned in.

This development comes days after Colorado officials announced the launch of a new office to provide economic support for the state’s marijuana industry.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The division, which was created as part of a bill signed into law in March, is being funded by cannabis tax revenue. It will focus on creating “new economic development opportunities, local job creation, and community growth for the diverse population across Colorado.”

Gov. Jared Polis (D) had initially asked lawmakers back in January to create a new a new cannabis advancement program as part of his budget proposal.

Beyond this program, the state has worked to achieve equity and repair the harms of prohibition in other ways.

For example, Polis signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

The governor signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

Funding for the new office is made possible by tax revenue from a booming cannabis market in the state. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the state saw more than half a billion dollars in marijuana sales.

The lack of access to federal financial support for marijuana businesses became a pronounced issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Small Business Administration saying it’s unable to offer those companies its services, as well as those that provide ancillary services such as accounting and law firms.

Polis wrote a letter to a member of the Colorado congressional delegation last year seeking a policy change to give the industry the same resources that were made available to other legal markets.

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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